Re: SPACE: Is ISS a boondoggle?, was Re: SPACE: Why so much EVA on ISS?

Date: Tue Mar 20 2001 - 05:28:52 MST

Well, even though we are often accused of and even flagellate ourselves for
being over-optimistic, this thread on the ISS should stand as evidence that
we aren't fans of just any technological project that comes along. And even
though I may seem to be a cheerleader for ANY project that throws ANYTHING
above the Earth's atmosphere, I agree with basically all of the criticism of
the ISS program we've seen. With the axing of the ACRV, US Propulsion module
and the TransHab module, I can't see how the folks who run the ISS will have
the time or energy to do anything more than keep the thing operating as a
string of pressurized tin cans.

Trying to salvage (or rationalize) some of my instinctive admiration for the
folks working on this project, there is this potential bright spot. ISS is
building a cadre of experienced space designers, builders and operators.
Maybe they're building the wrong thing the wrong way with the wrong tools for
the wrong reasons, but they ARE building SOMETHING pretty big in LEO and,
even accepting all the caveats about what, why and how they're doing it,
they're being amazingly successful.

So, taking all of the observations that have been made about ISS into
account, two questions present themselves to me: 1) Can the ISS be "salvaged"
programmatically at some future date for uses that lend themselves to more
rational goals; and 2) can the cadre of space designers and builders who are
working on the project be redirected into more useful work before their
knowledge and experience becomes stale.

Spike makes the correct observation that the current design for ISS isn't
nearly as open-ended than the original "Freedom" design (some cool graphics
of which I still have here in my office at home). However, I can see how the
existing modules can be re-arranged to allow expansion along more than one
physical axis at some future time. For instance, the US nodes are built to
be pretty stout. I could see a new pressurized truss-bearing structure being
mounted to the nadir port of one of the nodes as a nexus for a completely new
structure at some future time. The then-existing ISS would serve as a
"construction shack" for work on a that new structure - even one that could
eventually be de-mated for stand-alone operation. (Note that I agree that
the existing structure - or even an improved one - will be too shaky to do
meaningful astronomy.)

Ultimately, though, I think a major propulsion module would have to be added
to move the structure into a more sensible orbital inclination. As we
discussed recently, the 51 degree inclination - what I call the "Cold War
Delta-Vee Penalty - imposes a significant cost on getting mass up to the
station. Ultimately, the most sensible inclination is zero degrees and
that's where significant space development ought to be done, absent some
magic propulsion technology.

The human element of all this is probably more important. The hope is that
the human capital being cultivated in the ISS program can be "harvested" by
more rational programs at some future date. Given the life-cycle of the
current program, this could happen at any time within the next ten to 15
years and there would still be a substantial benefit from the program as a
training ground for talent in space development.

       Greg Burch <>----<>
      Attorney ::: Vice President, Extropy Institute ::: Wilderness Guide -or-
                                           ICQ # 61112550
        "We never stop investigating. We are never satisfied that we know
        enough to get by. Every question we answer leads on to another
       question. This has become the greatest survival trick of our species."
                                          -- Desmond Morris

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